Cygnus 27

(Grand Rapids, MI) Earlier this year a friend mentioned that Cygnus 27, perched high atop the Amway Grand, offered a Sunday brunch. We checked out the enticing menu online then made reservations (courtesy, of course), looking forward to a respite from our usual dinner plans. It had been nearly 8 years since we'd visited the restaurant and were looking forward to the new design...

He Fed:
The valet is packed, with cars lined up in the road, so we park our car instead in the garage across the street. It's a brisk day but we are soon inside the lobby of the hotel, trying to remember where the elevators are for Cygnus. We guess correctly and ride alone up to the 27th floor. A large group is waiting to be shown to their table, but the hostess offers to take our coats. There is the all-too-common awkwardness at the hostess stand while they try to find our table and more people come in behind us. Soon enough, though, we are shown to a small table with a good view (although not the window-side table I had requested online).

Our server arrives at just the right time, offering sparkling water, coffee, and cocktails. It is noon! I proceed to work my way through the champagne drinks: kir royal, mimosa, bellini. They are free with the purchase of brunch!

In addition to the standard buffet-style selections (omelette made to order, blah blah blah), Cygnus offers small plates. This is what drew me to make reservations in the first place because I'm not a lover of buffets. I ask our server to bring us one of each of the 6 small plates; instead, we each receive a larger plate with the 6 offerings on it. Not quite what we were expecting, but it is convenient. Excitedly, we burrow into the dishes.

The grilled beef tenderloin brochette is a dry lump of meat on a skewer that has been grilled with some vegetables. I am not impressed with the overcooked beef. On the other hand, the pheasant stew is nearly a cassoulet, with rich fowl dressed in navy beans, celery, carrots and very crunchy chestnuts. It's also somewhat overcooked (mushy) but flavorful. In a surprise turn of events, the lemon pepper walleye over saffron rice pilaf is tender enough to melt in your mouth.

I most look forward to the BBQ pulled pork tenderloin served on a blue cheese biscuit. The sauce, unfortunately, tastes like store-bought and I can barely detect any blue cheese. Disappointing. Prime rib is not my favorite; in fact, I usually avoid it at all costs because I can't stand all that fat. This slice, however, is pretty good though overcooked again. I think prime rib should be damn near rare. Finally, the honey glazed ham is uninspired, as is the scalloped potatoes. To be blunt, any of these dishes could be improved if their temperature were a few degrees hotter. Serving brunch just above room temperature makes it seem like the food is sitting in a vat in the kitchen.

Half-heartedly, I snag a couple mini-desserts before we leave. I want to like Cygnus but coming here again for brunch just isn't in the cards. To be honest, the last few brunches I've had, here and elsewhere, were mediocre. Maybe I'm just not a brunch guy, altogether? I like breakfast and I enjoy lunch but that nether region between the two has not yielded positive results in past. That's heard it here first. No more brunches for Jeremy!
She Fed:
It's been years since we last went to Cygnus. It was our anniversary and the food and service was amazing, but the decor was very dated, so I'm looking forward to seeing the place after its recent re-freshening. Checking in at the hostess stand is awkward and strained. The hostess seems unsure as to what to do with us. We had reservations so it's not like we're trying to crash the party, but after she checks our coats she is clearly uncertain of her next move. After stalling for time, she shows us to our seats.

Views from the 27th floor are expansive and breathtaking, even on a dreary grey Sunday. Cygnus is light and airy with high ceilings and contemporary light fixtures to make for a "chi chi" but not stuffy vibe. Our waiter, Matt, explains how brunch at Cygnus works. In addition to six small plates on the menu, there is an omelette station, dessert bar and line of cold salads. Champagne cocktails and coffee are included in the price of brunch while there is a small upcharge for Bloody Mary and espresso drinks.

We opt to try each of the small plates first. Surprisingly, the kitchen makes us full dinner-sized plates with portions of the small plate offerings. I start with tender, flavorful ham and creamy scalloped potatoes, which turn out to be my favorite. The other dishes are nothing special. The prime rib has a dark pink center with lovely herbed crust. The walleye on saffron rice is nice, but the saffron is lost. The pheasant stew is plain and reminds me of the Campbell's canned bean soup I adored as a child. The pulled pork is the consistency of baby food and even though it's on a homemade biscuit with blue cheese crumbles, the texture is just too pasty. The final offering is a kabob of grilled red onion, green pepper and beef tenderloin. The veggies are raw and the beef is cooked past medium well.

Jeremy suggests everything is underseasoned to appeal to Midwest tastes and probably sitting in chaffing dishes in the kitchen. I agree. The small plates sound better on the menu. I leave most on my plate, holding out hope for the buffet. The chef at the omelette station is backed up and many of the dishes for hot food are empty (French toast, eggs benedict, pancakes, etc). I move on to the salad display which has greens, pasta salads, cheeses and antipasto. There is also sushi, smoked salmon, seared scallops and marinated cold shrimp. I grab a few pieces of cheese and a mess of delicious tarragon marinated shrimp.

I'm not sure what it is, nothing's really grabbing me here. Maybe Jeremy and I have become too jaded from chef's tastings and multicourse dinners. In all honesty we've never been big fans of buffets, preferring to order off the menu. Our waiter is nice enough, though a bit nervous (we discover as we leave that this is his first day serving on his own) and he certainly keeps the champagne cocktails coming.

From the awkward start with the hostess, the disappointing small plates and the lack of upkeep on the buffet, it's a negative experience all around. I was looking forward to a long leisurely brunch, but we end up leaving within one hour. I should have stayed in my jammies and made my favorite scrambled eggs with tortillas ala Edward's in NYC.

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